L.B.: Speakerphone

L.B.: Speakerphone May 9, 2008

Left Behind, pp. 435-437

In this little section Bruce Barnes and Rayford are playing the Antichrist Game, trying to reconcile what they know about their prime suspect with the many arcane details they’ve compiled in their check list. Let me briefly try to explain where such details and such check lists come from.

The Bible is full of warnings not to be deceived by false prophets, false teachers or false leaders of any kind, religious or political. Read through the Bible and you will encounter, again and again, various versions of something like this:

Don’t be fooled by false leaders. They deceive people with their lies, so watch out to make sure you’re not taken in by them.

In many instances, the writer will use a definite generic instead of the plural, so you’ll read something like this:

Don’t be fooled by the false leader. He deceives people with his lies, so watch out to make sure you’re not taken in by him.

Here’s the fun part for prophecy enthusiasts: What if that second version doesn’t simply replace the plural with the generic? What if, instead, it actually refers to a specific, actual, singular False Leader?

Let the game begin! Get a highlighter and go through the entire Bible, circling every passage that warns against this false leader. (Read carefully — he goes by many names.) Next, go back through and write down all the descriptions those warnings provide of this false leader/teacher/prophet — anything that might serve a clue as to this single person’s singular identity. And there you have it, your very own Antichrist checklist.

Your final checklist will likely be a bit confusing. Some warnings seem to be describing the False Leader as an Israelite. Other warnings make it clear that he is a gentile. In the first part of Daniel the False Leader sounds like someone very much like Nebuchadnezzar, but in the later chapters of the book he sounds more like someone very much like Antiochus Epiphanes. Later still, John’s Apocalypse makes him sound almost like some kind of Roman emperor. This is where the game gets tricky. We seem to be looking for a Jewish gentile who is part Babylonian, part Syrian, part Roman. Trying to reconcile all of those seemingly contradictory descriptions in one single person isn’t easy, but that’s how the game is played.

(Note: The descriptive details in your check list may seem so irreconcilably disparate or so closely bound to the various biblical authors’ distinct contexts that you may even begin to suspect that these details weren’t really all intend to prophesy a single, particular False Leader. But that’s just crazy talk. Press on — your speculation about the identity of the Antichrist might end up being wrong, but you won’t be any wronger than everyone else who’s ever played this game.)

Bruce and Rayford have an advantage over the rest of us when playing the Antichrist Game: They’ve got a prime suspect carefully tailored by the authors to match every detail of the check list. Yet despite that, they’ve still got questions, like why is the Antichrist Romanian? This is the question they seek to answer here in Chapter 24:

After the core-group meeting, Rayford Steele talked privately with Bruce Barnes and was updated on the meeting with Buck. “I can’t discuss the private matters,” Bruce said …

Bruce and Buck didn’t really talk about any “private matters,” so I like to think that he’s just saying this to give Rayford a hard time. “Hey you know that 30-something guy who’s been seeing your freshman daughter? He and I talked yesterday. I can’t discuss the private matters — nudge, nudge, wink, wink — but we talked for quite some time.

“I can’t discuss the private matters,” Bruce said, “but only one thing stands in the way of my being convinced that this Carpathia guy is the Antichrist. I can’t make it compute geographically. Almost every end-times writer I respect believes the Antichrist will come out of Western Europe, maybe Greece or Italy or Turkey.”

WesterneuropeTurkey, traditionally, is not regarded as part of Western Europe, what with it’s being in Asia, but if we’re going to have any hope of reconciling all of the things in our Antichrist check list then we can’t allow ourselves to be constrained by such tired geographic conventions.

Poor Rayford is just trying to keep up. If Bruce says the check list doesn’t allow for an Antichristescu, then he’ll play along.

Rayford didn’t know what to make of that. “You notice Carpathia doesn’t look Romanian. Aren’t they mostly dark?”

“Yeah. Let me call Mr. Williams. He gave me a number. I wonder how much more he knows about Carpathia.” Bruce dialed and put Buck on the speakerphone. “Ray Steele is with me.”

“Hey, Captain,” Buck said.

Upon reading the word “speakerphone” there I half expected confetti to drop from the ceiling as a Sousa march would begin to play and top-hatted officials would arrive to commemorate this apotheosis of LaHaye & Jenkins’ weird fixation with telephony.

“We’re just doing some studying here,” Bruce said, “and we’ve hit a snag.” He told Buck what they had found and asked for more information.

“Studying” makes it sound like they’re translating obscure prophecies from ancient tomes rescued from the library of Alexandria. What they’ve actually been doing is watching CNN’s replay of Nicolae’s press conference and comparing his agenda to the Antichrist check list the late Rev. Billings left on his desk before he disapparated. One world government? Check. One world religion? Check. Peace treaty with Israel? Check. Babylonian/Syrian/Roman/Jewish heritage? Hmmm. …

“Well, he comes from a town, one of the larger university towns, called Cluj, and –”

“Oh, he does? I guess I thought he was from a mountainous region, you know, because of his name.”

Following the logic of the dialogue in Left Behind isn’t any easier than following the logic of the plot. One bumps into these Python-worthy non-sequiturs at every turn: “Is the town in the mountains?” “No, it’s a college town.” Huh?

“His name?” Buck repeated, doodling it on his legal pad.

“You know, being named after the Carpathian Mountains and all. Or does that name mean something else over there?”

Buck sat up straight and it hit him! Steve had been trying to tell him he worked for Stonagal and not Carpathia. And of course all the new U.N. delegates would feel beholden to Stonagal because he had introduced them to Carpathia. Maybe Stonagal was the Antichrist! Where had his lineage begun?

The ambiguity of Steve’s remark — “my boss moves mountains” — sets up what might have been an intriguing mystery. But at this point, 436 pages into a 468-page book, it’s a bit late to be introducing a new red herring. The possibility that Stonagal, rather than Carpathia, is our Big Bad is emphatically ruled out a mere 20 pages from now. Jenkins half-heartedly tries over those few pages to milk the question for suspense, but this falls flat since he’s already spent so much time establishing that Nicolae is, without a doubt, the Antichrist. Readers thus aren’t thinking, “Hey, Buck’s right, it could be either one of them,” but rather, “Pay attention Buck, you moron, it’s Nicolae.

The larger problem with the section I just quoted is that we’re in the middle of a Rayford-POV section. The whole point of having Bruce and Buck’s conversation on speakerphone was so that Rayford, and the reader, could hear what was being said. Yet we’re also somehow able to see what Buck is doodling and to hear his unspoken thoughts. Either Jenkins has completely lost track of which character’s perspective he’s supposed to be writing or else Rayford has some kind of supernatural mind-reading powers. … Hey. Maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s not Carpathia or Stonagal, maybe Rayford is the Antichrist!

“Well,” Buck said, trying to concentrate, “maybe he was named after the mountains, but he was born in Cluj and his ancestry, way back, is Roman. That accounts for the blonde hair and blue eyes.”

Then again, if this strange-but-apropos Blonde Map of Europe is to be believed, Nicolae’s being from Cluj, in northwestern Romania, might also “account” for his hair color.

Bruce thanked him and asked if he would see Buck in church the next day. Rayford thought Buck sounded distracted and noncommittal. “I haven’t ruled it out,” Buck said.

Following that paragraph is another one of these:




Indicating a shift back to Buck’s perspective for the following section, which begins:

Yes, Buck thought, hanging up. I’ll be there all right. He wanted every last bit of input before he went to New York to write a story that could cost him his career and maybe his life. …

So immediately after reading Rayford’s perception of what Buck is thinking we switch perspectives to read what Buck was really thinking and find out that Rayford had it backwards. Again. This was mildly interesting the first time Jenkins did this trick, less so the next four or five times. Here it doesn’t work at all because, again, Jenkins got confused and presented Buck’s perspective as Rayford’s.

If you’re a book editor, you should own a copy of Left Behind to take along to your annual performance reviews. Just open to a random page, have your boss read it, and then remind them that this is why you’re worth every penny and then some.

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